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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GMO Giant Monsanto Under Investigation

By Theodora Filis

Last month the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began an investigation into Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide business – The Monsanto Company is the world’s largest genetically modified seed producer. This investigation looks into Monsanto's incentive program for Roundup distributors for 2009 and 2010, which was discontinued last summer as part of Monsanto's larger restructuring of its herbicide business.

The US company provides cash incentives to distributors to buy Roundup glyphosate, the world’s leading herbicide, and Roundup Ready seeds. Its most recent program, introduced last year, offered up to $20 per acre. Federal regulators are now investigating Monsanto's incentive program for distributors who sell the company's herbicide Roundup to farmers.

Hugh Grant, Monsanto's Chairman, President and CEO, said the investigation is not related to Monsanto's genetically modified (GMO) business. “We take this seriously,” said Grant. “Out of respect for the SEC and their processes, there’s really not a great deal I can say at the moment. It’s early days. We’re just starting document production and we’re co-operating to our full ability.”

Last year, the Justice Department formally requested information on Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant soybean seed business as part of an investigation into anti competitive practices. The Justice Department’s antitrust division “is investigating the possibility of anti competitive practices in the seed industry,” said Gina Talamona, department spokeswoman.

“Monsanto will not block seed makers from creating generic versions of any of its gene-modified seeds as they lose patent protection”, Grant, said. “Starting in 2015, farmers can replant Roundup Ready soybeans saved from the last year’s harvest, and rival seed makers can create their own Roundup-tolerant seeds.”

Monsanto’s herbicide division was once a cash cow, but has since collapsed in the face of low-cost competition from China. Monsanto has been fighting to stabilize Round­up revenues, and cash incentives have played a big role in re-establishing the brand among farmers.

Roundup Ready soybeans are engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s most popular weed-killer. Contracts protect Monsanto’s patents in part by prohibiting farmers from planting saved seeds.

The Justice Department made informal inquiries last year into claims from the DuPont Company, the second-biggest seed company, that Monsanto unfairly used genetic licenses to dominate the engineered seed market – about 93 percent of soybean plantings last year contained Monsanto’s Roundup Ready trait.

Last month, DuPont said it was indefinitely delaying the commercial launch of the genetically-modified soybean seed at the center of the long-running court battle with Monsanto. The seed, the launch of which has been delayed before, is controversial because DuPont is using a Monsanto gene in the soybean plant against the wishes of Monsanto.

DuPont's Pioneer unit said the soybean plant is in limbo because Monsanto refuses to give foreign regulators access to data necessary for the genetically modified crop to win import approvals.

The court fight, which is still on-going, attracted the attention of the Obama administration's Justice Department, which in January 2010 opened a formal antitrust investigation into Monsanto's handling of the most widely planted genetically modified crop in the US, herbicide-tolerant soybeans.

DuPont's Optimum GAT seeds are genetically modified to grow into soybean plants able to survive exposure to glyphosate-based weedkiller as well as another herbicide called acetolate synthase.

DuPont advertisied Optimum GAT to farmers as an alternative to them buying seeds equipped with Monsanto's gene for surviving glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller. But, Pioneer scientists ended up loading Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene with their own glyphosate-tolerate gene.

While biotech giants fight it out for an even larger slice of the frankenfood pie, the world's population is fighting to understand what exactly they're so eager to force feed us, and why are they making it so hard for consumers to figure it out.

More than forty countries have adopted labelling regulations for GM food, but one of the major differences in regulations among countries with mandatory labelling depends on whether the regulation targets the presence of GM in the finished product or on GM technology as a production process. Where as, voluntary labelling has resulted, so far, in an increasing number of non-GM labeled products available as alternatives to GM products, giving consumers a choice between products that may contain approved GM products and those that have no GM ingredients.

There is no international agreement, standard, or guideline on GM food labeling, and strict mandatory labeling systems adopted by importers could be found in violation of rules under the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Starting to feel like you have no choice in the matter?